How to Grow Thyme

Thyme makes a great addition to every herb garden. It can be planted along walkways, in between steps and as ground cover around trees and vegetable plants. The leaves are very small and aromatic and the flowers come in a range of colors including white, pink and magenta. What’s more, thyme is pretty easy to care for, even for the most green thumbed gardener. Here are some tips on how to grow thyme.

Thyme comes in many different colors and aromas. Creeping vine varieties can cover low walls or stones but there are bush types as well, which grow about 8 inches high. Be sure to choose a thyme variety considered suitable for cooking as there are only a dozen or so of these types, unless you are growing for ornamental value only.

Thyme is a perennial herb that will survive most winter climates. Sow seeds in the spring after the last frost or get them started indoors and transfer outside once temperatures begin to rise. In hot climates, thyme can be planted in the fall and grown over winter.

In grow zone 11, thyme may only grow as an annual over winter as it may not do well in the heat and humidity of summer.

Thyme grows best outdoors in zones 5-10. Plant thyme is a space that gets lots of sunlight. It does well planted amongst most vegetables or along garden edges as long as it does not get shaded.

Thyme also grows well in containers. The larger the container, the bigger the plant but a single plant does not need a lot of space.

Companion plant thyme with vegetables that benefit from bees or need aromatic herbs to repel pests.

Use a well drained, gritty soil. The pH should be about 7.0 or on the slightly alkaline side of the scale. Add lime well in advance if necessary to raise the pH. Mix in lots of mature compost prior to planting or a time-release organic fertilizer. Good drainage is key to growing good thyme. Adding a little sand is not a bad idea.

Thyme grows best from transplants but can also be grown from seed. For best results, sow seeds indoors 5 weeks prior to the last frost of spring under only a light sprinkling of soil. Keep them moist until they sprout. Use a spray bottle to avoid flooding the seeds or burying them too deep.

Direct sow seeds in the fall in warmer climates or set out transplants. Thin or transplant seedlings 6 – 12 inches apart after the danger of frost has past. In the fall, set out transplants 3 – 4 weeks prior to the first frost of winter to allow them plenty of time to become established before temperatures drop.

Thyme likes dry soil. Water only when the soil has dried out or in hot, dry weather.

Mulch with limestone gravel after planting. This has many purported benefits, including improving drainage, soil pH and therapeutic benefits obtained from reflecting sunlight onto the vines.

Thyme should not need fertilizing if planted in fertile soil. If growing thyme in a container, you may want to give it a light feeding a couple times during the growing season. Use an organic liquid fertilizer or compost tea. Avoid high nitrogen solutions.

Prune thyme plants for the first year—pinch off stem tips occasionally throughout the growing season. Stop pruning about a month before the first frost of the fall. Cut back old stems by 1/3 in the spring of the second season. Try not to cut off any fresh growth. Keep an eye on creepers, which can quickly spread out beyond their preferred space. Cut them back to keep them contained.

Harvest thyme as needed throughout the growing season and even over winter in climates where thyme stays green all year round. Do not harvest more than 1/3 of the leaves at once. Flavor should remain consistent if the plant is well cared for.

Good drainage and aeration are key to growing healthy thyme and preventing pests and disease.

In northern grow zones, mulch over winter to help protect your thyme plant for the following season.

Thyme essential oil is called thymol and can be used as an antiseptic among other possible health benefits.

Avoid too much nitrogen. If planted in fertile soil, perhaps with an organic time-release fertilizer, thyme should not need additional feeding.

Pinch and sniff when shopping for thyme seedlings. This is the best way to know for sure what type of thyme you will be growing.

Thyme is good for about 4 or 5 seasons before becoming too woody.

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